Last night (Tuesday, May 25), Ian Capstick, Erik Hagborg and I were the panelists for a hugely fun (at least for me) panel discussion on social media and its effects on more “traditional” communications. The discussion was part of the Cafe Scientifique program. This discussion was organized by The Canada Museum of Science and Technology and the Canadian Museum of Nature. Particular thanks should to to Isabelle Kingsley, who organized the event.

Here’s roughly the entire evening in audio format. It’s about 100 minutes long, and it ranges from the future of cursive script, to the “art should / shouldn’t be free” debate, to the fundamental disadvantage of the e-book (hint: “Hey! Read this!”) to how we preserve the important things in a digital age that doesn’t preserve things in tangible format.

Apologies for any rough audio — it was a big room and I was recording only with my Edirol. Mostly pretty good, I think. The audio begins with Erik Hagborg’s opening remarks. Download it here, or use the player below.

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  • 00:00 — Opening statements. Erik takes us back to the beginning of communications with the run at Marathon, then moves on to the four questions of the evening: Are we conducting too many of our relationships via tech? Why do we choose to use technology to communicate? Does tech facilitate or impede face-to-face communications? Are technology and f2f interactions complementary or exclusive? (Bonus from Erik: The difference between a “friend” and a “good friend”?)
  • 05:45 — Ian Capstick talks about his earliest experience with technology and F2F communication, when he was a teenager and met online friends in Ottawa at a choral conference.
  • 09:20 – Ian’s train of thought is briefly interrupted as his dinner arrives.
  • 11:40 — Ian recalls the phone phreakers as one of several examples of how humans hack technology for good and ill.
  • 15:25 -- Bob acknowledges that concern about social media is fair, but fear is unreasonable. People will use technologies in the ways that best suit them, and that one of the tension points with social media is that they are changing and growing so rapidly that our collective, unconscious agreements on what’s proper — the norms of using the medicum — are being left behind. Social media killed geography as the defining limit of friendship.
  • 23:00 — I inform the audience that Mel Blanc was allergic to carrots (as is Ian Capstick)
  • 24:00 – Discussion kicks off with an anecdote from moderator Isabelle Kingsley about texting as distraction
  • 26:00 — How to sift through “all the crap” on the Internet, and whether there’s more crap on the Internet than there was before, with a slight detour into Internet dating
  • 34:00 — Ian recommends Andrew Potter’s “The Authenticity Hoax
  • 37:00 — Discussion about the idea of digital legacy, in which I deftly pimp out PAB 2010. Adele McAlear and Derek K. Miller, come on down to pick up your name-checks! Ian argues that the problem won’t be a lack of information left behind but TOO MUCH.
  • 40:00 — Erik talks about the craft behind communication — the calligraphy and the content of handwritten letters, for example. We won’t lose the CONTENT; we’re going to lose the style and soul. Ian counters by saying “the pen stole oral history,” polls the audience on the use of cursive handwriting, and nominates Isabelle Kingsley as the leader of the future handwriting guild.
  • 46:00 — Where will obsolete media be preserved? Punch cards, 8-inch floppies, 5.25s, 3.5s… Erik suggests most technologies will be backwards-compatible and that this is not a huge worry. He also admits to, as a child, ruining his father’s punch-card programs on their home mainframe (parenthetical note: Erik had a mainframe in his HOUSE?!)
  • 49:00 — Bob shouts out to Project Gutenberg and Librivox as examples of how people are preserving ‘outdated’ content
  • 51:00 — Do people have opinions on e-books? Ian is conflicted and thinks there’s a generational shift involved with the shift from paper to pixels. Bob hates the DRM, the lack of pass-on-ability and marginalia and mourns the loss of craft in e-books as well as the LP-CD-MP3 transition.
  • 55:00 — Erik jumps on a DRM soapbox and ventures the “art wants to be free” argument, to be countered strongly by Ian and audience members, and weakly by house-concert presenter Bob (yes, I’m shamelessly whoring myself; it’s my blog.) Erik maintains that examples of commercial success exist.
  • 59:00 — Ian begs to differ and betrays his proud socialist heritage by arguing creating content has to be valued and compensated (shoutout, Cory Doctorow)… “we must find alternative funding models!”, and takes a run at Robert Bateman (f-bomb warning)
  • 1:06 — Discussion of the power of social media tools to connect people and to foster awareness and action internationally, with references to Iran, to Burma, Michael Jackson, balloon boy, and to the local experience of Ian and my blogging about Cornerstone.
  • 1:16 –  Does reliance on specific ways of communicating leave you excluded from some people because they don’t use the same channels? Discussion of how to get out of your “comfort zone”, how Bob’s next-door neighbour reached out using Facebook to make the introduction (thank God), and how Ian met his condo-mate at a ChangeCamp.
  • 1:27 –  Does the desire for texting / tweeting / constant “communicating” mean people miss out on genuine interactions?
  • 1:30 — The difficulty of sloppy communication, and how interpretation of communication tells as much about the  interpreter as about what is being interpreted.
  • 1:34 — after an awkward jump-cut where I muffed the recorder, Ian gives his online parenting advice, which incorporates a story about his own adolescent online adventures in the land of shirtless men. Bob talks about tailoring communication media to the audience, whether family or not.

Errata: I talk about Librivox at about 48-49 minutes in. But I screwed up: it’s Hugh McGuire, not Hugh MacLeod, who created Librivox. Hugh MacLeod is also a great human being, but for other reasons.


Erik Hagborg is a VP at RealDecoy

Ian Capstick is the owner of MediaStyle

Canada Museum of Science and Technology

Canadian Museum of Nature


Project Gutenberg




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